By Palmer Brigham | Guest Columnist
As a Baylor tour guide, I understand the tradition of Chapel. Several times a week, I stand in front of Waco Hall and tell prospective students about Baylor’s pride in its Christian roots and its continued commitment to those beliefs. I talk about how Baylor students “get to” (purposefully avoiding words about compulsory attendance that could illicit complaints) attend two semesters of Chapel.
I depict Chapel as a time to take your mind off the school day while talking about how nice it is to have a “class” with a simple attendance grade and no assignments. This is not a script given to me by Baylor admissions, but rather my choice to express the positive aspects of Chapel. I believe it is a privilege that my university shares my faith and not only is concerned for my academic success, but also for my spiritual well-being.
However, for many students, Chapel is seen as simply a requirement. 50 minutes to fight sleep and the urge to check the iPhone vibrating in their pockets until they can swipe their student ID on the way out for credit. Admittedly, as my freshman self dragged myself out of bed for 9 a.m. Chapel every Monday and Wednesday, I fell into this category as well.
Chapel needs to change. This requirement has been reduced from an aspiration to expose students to the gospel, into a simple, robotic motion of swiping in and out.
Although Chapel has been an institution at this university since Baylor’s founding in 1845, it also has transformed over time. Originally, students and faculty were required to attend Chapel every day. This differs greatly from the current Chapel practice in which students choose two semesters to attend Chapel twice a week. So why can’t change happen once again?
Trends in education show that allowing choice in a college curriculum translates into students caring and being more interesting in the subject material in the class. This is one way high school differs greatly from college.
It is time for Chapel to become more discussion-based by allowing students to choose topics in which they are interested. Take those topics of faith into action, debate over current events, theology and service currently covered in Chapel and create groups for students to grapple with the topic of their choice over the course of the semester.
University President Dr. Linda Livingstone’s conversation series this summer about the new Academic Strategic Plan, Illuminate, excited me about the plans to take Baylor to the next level as a top-tier research institution still committed to its Christian morals. As Baylor continues to pursue excellence and increase its academic rigor, interest in the university will expand and attract more students from different places, backgrounds and beliefs. If Chapel is Baylor’s way of making sure every student has heard the gospel before they graduate, breaking news: They’re sleeping through it.
We have had the tradition of Chapel since Baylor’s inception because it expresses an outward dedication of praise and worship to God. But the goal should be engagement, not simply tradition for tradition’s sake. If Baylor is the last place a student hears about God, it should leave him/her with an impression. Let’s engage students in Chapel further by putting the gospel into the conversation.
Palmer is a senior professional writing major from Augusta, Ga.